The pilot relives that September 16, 2001 with EL TIEMPO and reveals a crash that no one saw.

After 14 races, 10 retirements and two second places, there was Juan Pablo.

That On that day, September 16, 2001, there was no option for his car's engine to have problems, the clutch to fail or some crash to torpedo success.

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It didn't matter that the 150,000 tifosi that invaded the Monza National Autodrome gathered all their strength for Ferrari to win.

Although they made a dent, neither the anxiety of the attack on the Twin Towers, which had occurred five days ago, nor the reserved prognosis of his former CART partner, Alex Zanardi, who suffered a serious accident at EuroSpeedway the day before, could not be an impediment.

Like every hero on his journey, despite the challenges, Montoya had a way of putting his strengths at the service of destiny . And history witnessed the way he did it.

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One hour, 16 minutes, 58 seconds and 493 thousandths of brilliant management with an ingenious strategy led the Bogotan, four days after his 26th birthday, and in the middle of his father's birthday, to climb into the highest drawer of the Italian Grand Prix, just as its great reference, the Brazilian Ayrton Senna, did in 1990 and 1992.

The anthem and the flag of Colombia took over for the first time a stage of the Formula 1.

It was “the day of unfading glory”, as José Clopatofsky wrote in these pages.

Juan Pablo Montoya's smile represented the satisfaction of a people who saw how one of their own triumphed in the highest category of motorsports.

And although the pilot's gestures could only convey happiness, internally his feeling was one of “relief”.

This is what he says in a race to the past, in the that EL TIEMPO acts as co-pilot.

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The long-awaited day

To the surprise of those who followed Montoya's first win in Formula 1, the feat began in the most unexpected way: with an accident.

“People don't know, but that day I crashed in the morning arriving at the racetrack. My wife doesn't remember (laughs), but that was at a round point that was getting there. Before entering the roundabout, I saw that no one was coming and I assumed that a man who was ahead had started and, well, no. That's where we went…”, Juan Pablo confesses to this newspaper.

The pilot tells, very much in his style, that the crash was far from affecting him because he was focused on the race. Then, on the road course, in the Williams uniform, his purpose was to cash in on his third pole position and take victory on a circuit that matched his driving style for the long straights.

However, things did not start in the best way.

At the end of lap eight, Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello, a latent threat, managed to overtake Montoya after he failed to brake in a corner.

And for added pressure, the Bogota native was among the Brazilian and Michael Schumacher, the anticipated champion.

“I damaged one of the rear tires by skidding too much and that's when Rubens passed me”, explains Montoya, who resisted Schumacher's attacks.

With the walk, the tire stabilized and Juan Pablo was able to continue his course.

On lap 18, Schumacher went to the pits and the man from Bogota breathed. Then it was Barrichello's turn, who with a slow stop of 16.3 seconds allowed Montoya to retake the lead. On lap 29, it was Juan Pablo's turn to stop, who, when he recovered, was third, behind the Schumacher brothers.

Ralf, with whom he shared rows at Williams, pitted around lap 36. Michael, out of gas, made his second stop afterwards. And then, the turn, with 13 laps to go, went to Barrichello, who gave up 6.4 seconds in his stop to refuel.

At that point, two races, the one seen on the circuit and the one Montoya lived in his head.

“The story was complicated because the Michelin tires that we brought were very fast at the beginning of the race, but at the end they left a lot. Rubens was very close, but we had enough speed to win. He was catching up with us, yes, but in the end, I was calculating in my head the tenths that I was taking off per lap and the ones that were left. He kept repeating to me: 'We're fine, we're fine'”, remembers Juan Pablo.

After defending the difference came the image that Colombia recorded: Montoya raising his fist from his vehicle after having driven 'a lo berraco', as Germán Mejía narrated, and the remembered climb to the podium.

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A celebration that, in the public, his girlfriend (today his wife), Connie Freydell, and his father, Pablo, on his birthday, lived to the surface.

“The triumph was very special, but more what happiness what I felt was relief. We finally won, but it was a very strange week, the 9/11 thing, the Zanardi thing, my dad had his birthday, that same day, but a year ago I had won my last race in Cart, I already had the ring to get engaged to Connie in three days… there were a lot of things”, admits Montoya.

In the end, the anthem sounded, the flag was raised and Juan Pablo, in the middle of the long face of his partner Ralf, celebrated having succeeded a difficult day in which there was generally little reason for the rest of the world to celebrate. Therefore, the traditional bottle of champagne was not opened. And 21 years later it is still intact.

“I think it is the only Formula 1 bottle that has not been opened. That day I signed it and kept it. Over time I wrapped it up and I have it at home, back in Miami, in the garage, with all the memories of the races”, explains Juan Pablo.

There's Montoya for a while< /h3>

After that victory, Montoya achieved six more wins in F-1 and came third in the 2003 and 2004 world championships. In that race, Monza retains a special place.

That victory 2001 was a very special beginning for me because of everything I mentioned. Monza gave me a lot of things, then I went and won there with McLaren, I did three poles, I set the record for the fastest lap that Hamilton beat in 2018…, we've had it all there”, acknowledges Juan Pablo.

Regarding the next Colombian to obtain a victory in Formula 1, Juan Pablo says he has the right one: Sebastián, his son.

“Sebas is doing things very well. With the support of Claro and all of its sponsors, we are working on something very good for next year. What is coming for him is fantastic and we will surely see a Montoya winning again,” says Juan Pablo, whose birthday is on September 20. He dates that, with his father's background, is worth considering for Sebastian's future. It remains to be seen if the calendar will wait.

(2023 is clear: Sebastián Montoya is going for everything: 'Next year I hope to be in Formula 3').

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ANDRÉS FELIPE BALAGUERA SARMIENTO< br>EL TIEMPO SPORTS JOURNALIST

In networks: @balagueraaa

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